Today’s IRS Documents: What Do They Show?

Earlier today, Judicial Watch made public a batch of documents that it received from the IRS in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents consists of a series of emails relating to the IRS’s treatment of applications for 501(c)(4) status from “Tea Party” or otherwise conservative organizations.

I am still working my way through the emails, but have a few preliminary observations. First, the most significant ones I have seen so far have already been widely discussed. The email below documents a call from the Department of Justice about whether non-profits that “lied” about doing political activity can be criminally prosecuted. This was an idea that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised at a committee hearing. It was picked up on by DOJ, and there was some coordination among DOJ, the IRS and the FEC. Click to enlarge:

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This one is obviously significant. Lois Lerner says, in effect, to disregard administration spin: the effort is “ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity.” Click to enlarge:

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This one is my favorite. It was sent by Cindy Thomas to Lerner just after Lerner disclosed the targeting of conservative groups at an American Bar Association conference, and blamed it on “low level workers” in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. That was obviously a total lie, and Ms. Thomas, who was in charge of exempt organizations at the Cincinnati branch at the time, rubs it in. This email was actually made public last November, but if you haven’t yet seen it (I hadn’t), you should. Click to enlarge:

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My only other comment is that the emails are heavily redacted. Almost all of the redactions cite exemption b5, which is very general; it covers any document or portion of a document that would not have to be produced in a civil action. Actually, if documents fall within the scope of a Rule 34 request, the circumstances under which they do not need to be produced are quite narrow. While it is impossible to judge the appropriateness of a redaction without knowing what has been blacked out, there are a number of instances where it is hard to believe that any normally recognized privilege would apply.

When it comes to spying, secrecy and accountability are not mutually exclusive

Barton Gellman, who led a Washington Post team that revealed NSA surveillance measures, has argued that our interest in “self-government” requires that the public know “the secret policy decisions the government is making for us.” I have responded that our interest in self-government is sufficiently vindicated in cases like spying that require secrecy as long as the political process determines who makes the secret decisions and provides for checks against abuse.

The work of the NSA meets this test because it is conducted under the direction of our elected president and is subject to review by our elected legislative branch. It is also subject to judicial review.

I don’t mean to suggest that this system is ideal. Ideally, the public would know what decisions the executive is making and Congress and the judiciary are countenancing. The public could then punish elected officials with whose balancing of national security and privacy interests it disagrees. That’s self-government at its best.

The problem, of course, is that if the public knows what secret surveillance measures the NSA is taking, the measures will no longer be secret. They will then become less effective, if effective at all.

Moreover, although less than ideal from the standpoint of self-government, secret decisions that balance national security and privacy interests are not entirely insulated from public scrutiny. The public can’t review the decisions when they are made, but it can observe the consequences and punish elected officials for bad ones.

If the government errs on the side of privacy interests, fails as a result to connects dots, and therefore fails to learn about a deadly attacks, the public will learn about the failure, as it did following 9/11. It probably will become irate.

If, on the other hand, the government engages in abuses such as using information obtained from secret surveillance against Americans for reasons unrelated, or insufficiently related, to fighting terrorism, the victims can be expected to scream. The public probably will become irate.

From all that appears, NSA has not used information obtained through its surveillance programs against Americans for reasons insufficiently related to fighting terrorism. But if it did, the political process provides a potential remedy, even if the Washington Post and others do not disclose the NSA’s secret programs.

But there is no remedy for the Post’s disclosure. Once it decides to tell the world about a given NSA surveillance technique, the NSA typically can no longer use that technique effectively. And the public cannot “unelect” the reporters, editors, and managers of the Washington Post.

All that remains for those who worry about protecting this country from terrorist attacks is to take what solace we can from Bart Gellman’s self-serving claim that he and his colleagues have “been as careful as we could be to balance the public interests in self-government and self-defense.” I take none.

Where Do We Turn For Wisdom on Foreign Policy?

You know it’s an upside-down world when editorial cartoonists have a more sober understanding of national security realities than the administration’s foreign policy team. Click to enlarge:

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The Fraud of Mary Landrieu

By now news has traveled far and wide that Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu faked a Senate hearing in a TV ad in order to make herself look less bumbling.  Pretty cheesy, yes, but it ought to raise a larger point: What else is she faking?

Well, everything really.  This is going to be one of those years where Democrats conveniently leave off their party affiliation in TV ads, and affect of posture of—”Obama? Obama who? Obamacare? Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix it!”  If I were an independent campaign ad strategist, I’d rerun Landrieu’s ad to make exactly the point that she’s a fake senator, and thank her for so candidly admitting it.

I predict someone will throw a shoe at her any day now.

Krugman to the Rescue!

There’s hardly anyone who can top former Enron adviser (TM James Taranto) Paul Krugman in the sweepstakes for bemoaning income inequality, and so it makes perfect sense that City University of New York would hire Krugman for $25,000 per month to be a grandee at its new center to study the problem.  The Onion and The Daily Show may as well take the rest of the day off.

The offer letter, as detailed on Gawker.com, says that Krugman needn’t be bothered “to teach or supervise students,” which is a relief, really, but still—isn’t teaching and supervising students what college faculty are chiefly hired to do?  The professors who actually do teach and supervise students at CUNY?  Well, adjuncts, who typically have little chance at permanent employment or advancement at CUNY or anywhere else, get paid $3,000 per course at CUNY (think Krugman will agree to make a guest appearance in any of their classes?), while permanent tenured faculty top out at $116,000.

The story doesn’t say whether Krugman’s CUNY gig is concurrent with his Princeton faculty position, but you can be pretty sure what the answer is.

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JOHN adds: Krugman’s “job” will be to “play a modest role in our public events” and “contribute to the build-up” of a new “inequality initiative.” Whatever that means. One can only imagine what they would have paid him to play a major role in their public events!

Meanwhile, Krugman and his fellow one per centers draw ever farther ahead of their less privileged colleagues in academia. PBS did a story on how “low-paid adjunct professors struggle to make ends meet.” One of the professors they interviewed was from CUNY:

PAUL SOLMAN: Nicole Beth Wallenbrock got a Ph.D. in French lit to become a full-time professor anywhere.

NICOLE BETH WALLENBROCK: I had this idea that I could get a job so that I could have a good income to support my son, and it didn’t work out that way.

PAUL SOLMAN: Since graduating in 2012, she’s worked part-time and is now teaching just two courses at the City University of New York, making $2,800 a class, though she’s more highly-rated than almost all of her peers.

She’s moved to the cheapest place she could find on the outskirts of the city, a three-hour-a-day commute. But she can’t make it without public assistance and help from her family.

NICOLE BETH WALLENBROCK: I’m a precarious worker. I have no job security. So I have to accept whatever I can get. It’s depressing. It makes me feel like a failure in a lot of ways.

Let’s see: Ms. Wollenbrock makes $2,800 for teaching a class, while Krugman makes $225,000 for teaching no classes. I am sure it will console Ms. Wallenbrock to learn that Paul Krugman’s staunch opposition to income inequality is about to make him even richer.

Dems get that sinking feeling in FLA-13

There will be no replay this November of that closely-watched special congressional election in Florida last month in which Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink. The Democrat says she will not run.

This leaves the Dems searching for a respectable candidate to challenge Jolly. Meanwhile, Jolly can accrue the advantages, financial and otherwise, of incumbency.

Rep. Steve ( “Not all Republican law makers are racists”) Israel, the Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman, had lobbied hard for Sink to have another go, according to the Washington Post. Now he is trying to put a happy face on his latest setback:

Pinellas residents have voted time and again for commonsense solutions instead of reckless partisanship, which is why we are confident our Democratic nominee can prevail on Election Day.

I’m sure Bill Young, the longtime Republican congressman from Pinellas for whom Jolly once worked, would have appreciated the compliment.

Not all Democrat politicians are bullshiters, but Israel is.

The Republican take is closer to the mark. “Washington Democrats can’t even convince their die-hard career politicians to walk the plank this November,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The lies of Obamacare: Census Bureau edition

High among the list of Obamacare’s most embarrassing failures is the fact that it will not meet its stated purpose of reducing to a low level the number of Americans who lack health insurance. This goal was the justification for the massive disruption of the health care system that Obamacare has imposed. The millions and millions of Americans who will lose their health insurance plan and/or their doctors, and/or will see their premiums sky-rocket suffer these consequences in the name of making sure that few Americans lack coverage.

But Obamacare will not deliver on this promise. Accordingly, as The New York Times informs us, the Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the impact of Obamacare on the number of uninsured.

The Census Bureau describes the changes to its survey as a “total revision to health insurance questions.” And it concedes that, given the revision, it will be difficult to say how much of any change in the number of uninsured is attributable to Obamacare and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

In short, unable to deliver on its central Obamacare promise, the administration now tries to muddy the waters so its critics can’t quantify the underperformance.

Now for the big question: Will the “new survey instrument” cause the number of uninsured to be reported as higher or lower than it would have been reported under the old method? If you said the new instrument will cause the Census Bureau to find a lower number of uninsured than would have been found under the old metric, you win (but you still may be unable to keep your insurance plan). “We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

Naturally, the Census Bureau claims that the changes in the survey are intended to improve its accuracy. But the Obama administration never questioned the accuracy of the survey when it used Census Bureau numbers to make the case that America desperately needed Obamacare.

Obamacare, then, appears to be based on false claims about the number of uninsured in America. If not, then it will be defended in the future based on false claims about the same issue.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle has more on the change to the Census Bureau survey.